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Cameras at the table

The world has been blessed with yet another food photography app, underscoring (or fuelling?) the growing obsession with visually recording everything we eat — from slices of toast to smears of jus. Millions of us now feel so compelled to snap our dinner it seems that our ability to sit down and just enjoy a meal is in danger of being lost.

india Updated: Mar 31, 2012 02:26 IST

The world has been blessed with yet another food photography app, underscoring (or fuelling?) the growing obsession with visually recording everything we eat — from slices of toast to smears of jus. Millions of us now feel so compelled to snap our dinner it seems that our ability to sit down and just enjoy a meal is in danger of being lost.

Platter, a new app that tags and shares food images, joins a host of social media that allow us to enthral the world with photos of what we eat. Leader of the pack, Foodspotting, has had more than 1 million food images uploaded on its site in the past two years and others like Foursquare, fidd.me, SnapDish and Instagram are driving the trend. Twitter, Facebook and Pinterest are also awash with plates of food. One of the most prolific Flickr groups is I Ate This, where more than 25,000 members have uploaded 4,70,000 images ranging from plain old Marmite on toast to various expressions of molecular gastronomy.

The author of food blog, A Girl Has To Eat (who remains anonymous for the purposes of reviewing) takes photographs every time she eats out — that’s 250 restaurants over the past three years — and has never received any flak for doing it. “Noone blinks when you take pictures any more,” she says. Food blogger Libby Andrews, author of Ravenous Libby, says, friends and family know the drill. "When a plate is set down in front of us, no one's allowed to touch it until I've taken a quick snap." she says.

Why do we snap food?
Why do non-food bloggers feel the need to record their food? In 2011 a survey on Online Food & Photo Sharing Trends by digital marketing agency 360i found that one-quarter of those sharing food photos were more mundanely, simply publishing a food diary. “People see personal value in just sharing the simple moments in life,” the survey found. A further 22% were pretty much “showing off” their gustatory achievements, while others were simply recording a special occasion (16%), creating food art (12%) or capturing family or friends guzzling food (10%).

It all puts restaurants in a tricky place. Most happy snappers, let’s face it, shouldn’t give up their day jobs and can make a meticulously plated dish resemble a dog’s breakfast. Perhaps that’s why Heston Blumenthal bans cameras at The Fat Duck restaurant in Bray, Berkshire. Or maybe he just wants us to focus our minds and palates — not our cameras — on the food. But in a completely unscientific mini survey, I couldn’t find any other eateries that actually ban cameras, although The Ritz prefers it if you don’t play LaChapelle with your amuse bouche. Most restaurants now accept cameras over plates as a fact of life and some actually value having their food in the Tweetosphere.

Whatever the reason, so many of us photograph our food, maybe it’s time to take stock. A much hyped new game in the US somewhat prosaically called the phone stack claims to offer a solution to uncivilised interruptions to dinner caused by mobile phones. The idea is that after everyone has placed their orders, phones are stacked in the middle of the table and the first person to submit to temptation and answer one that rings must pick up the bill for the table. Should we go one step further and include the first person to pick up a phone and photograph their plate?

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